The Washington Post

Koch Brothers 3.0: A solution for America’s Main Street?

Charles G. Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Koch Industries Inc. (Mike Burley/AP)
Charles G. Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Koch Industries Inc. (Mike Burley/AP)

If you can spot a caravan of Escalades speeding in the wrong direction on a busy, one-way street, you can’t miss a country reeling from critical problems. It doesn’t take a poll (or polls) to figure out that most Americans think the nation is headed the wrong way.

The real polling question is what to do about the out-of-control problems ramming through state after state. Do we march? Recruit vigilantes? Snipe at each other on partisan cable shows? Hole up in bunkers? Entrust ourselves to the federal government?

Hmm. A fresh model for social change would set Main Street on fire. But it would have to be an unsettling solution that demands the best from us. How about this: What if the Koch brothers’ template of money, influence and power was transformed into Koch Brothers  3.0.?

I know what you’re thinking. It’s a wild thought. Industrialists Charles G.Koch and David H. Koch have deployed their wealth to influence anything that serves their ultraconservative interests, as reported  here  and here. The Koch brothers display a Midas touch that reshapes institutions and policy in their political image. For example, they influence the climate debate and make donations that result in high-profile philanthropy like the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. They back conservative candidates and demonstrate a shrewd understanding about the force of The Public Rebuttal via KochFacts.com.

 David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries. (Mark Lennihan/AP) David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Brilliant. The brothers influence many social, political and economic engines that fuel America, but the Koch template can be imitated, even elevated. Too many Americans, regardless of their race, economic status or political affiliation, feel they can’t transform the world around them unless they have crazy Monopoly money or well-placed friends in Washington. Not true. Why can’t a 3.0 version of the Koch template feature a massive network of Americans who interact with the “powers that be” in ways we’ve never seen before? What would their power and influence look like?

PTAs, mom-and-pop businesses, religious institutions, local industries, chambers of commerce, entrepreneurs, neighborhood leaders, public schools, community newspapers, and community colleges wouldn’t operate alone in this 3.0 world. They would feed on connectivity. They would flourish because of collaboration. And they would master the art of resolving problems within the context of their communities.

Corporations, for instance, would no longer be the chief financial prize. Americans would raise funds within their own community networks, if needed. Local residents wouldn’t pant after corporate sponsorships that don’t uphold their interests. In other words, communities wouldn’t seek corporate sponsorship for a new baseball field for children, then watch passively as the corporation lays off the parents of those same kids.

I’m not saying this kind of social change doesn’t happen in some forms already. But in a 3.0 version of the Koch template, the results would be exponential. Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings, the unraveling of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, long-term joblessness, lending institutions that refuse to lend, the post-racial America myth, deteriorating roads and bridges, the staggering costs of education, and the horrific conditions of state and local budgets should drive us to seek dramatic social change like this.

As social movements have shown before, the rediscovery of a better-oiled democracy benefits everyone. Imagine it. Change would feature millions of people whose names may never trend on Twitter. But they would take the nation to places the Koch brothers never dreamed of.

To rework the words of James Brown’s1965 hit that sparked a musical revolution, shouldn’t “Papa (and Mama) get a brand new bag?”

Judy Howard Ellis is an editor at Daybreak Lit. A former Denver Post features editor, Judy is writing a sequel to her fantasy novel, “Fall of the Savior King,” a story inspired by the Book of Genesis. Follow her on Twitter @JudyHowardEllis.

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